Zero Dark Thirty: A Case for International Relations

Is Osama bin Laden really dead?

While watching Zero Dark Thirty at the movies this past Saturday night I asked myself that question. For those of you who haven’t heard of the movie which will no doubt blow away the Oscars this year, Zero Dark Thirty is Hollywood’s rendition of the ten years it took to track and kill Osama bin Laden. But unlike other Hollywood takes on real-life events, I was taken aback by how real the movie was, how the drama wasn’t dramatic, how the characters were frank. It felt as though I was watching a very interesting, well-executed documentary, not Hollywood-ese at all but yet it made me want to watch the film again and again.

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, sourced from

Jessica Chastain portrayed “Maya,” the woman who is responsible for having found bin Laden’s hideout. She already won the Golden Globe last night and if she doesn’t take home the Oscar for Best Actress I am going to be livid, because she really made me feel as though she was a CIA agent. Furthermore, I want to know if it’s really true that it’s thanks to a woman that we found Osama?? Because if it is, then I never want to hear another freaking word about how women are helpless/over emotional/not meant for politics or international affairs/too delicate ever.again. And I mean ever again. This movie was so full of girl power that I was taken aback: we have Maya and then we also have “Jessica,” who plays another CIA officer who gets killed in the Camp Chapman attack (which, strangely enough, I never remember hearing about). But their girl power is not in your face (although I love it when Maya says, “I’m the motherfucker who found him” to the head of the CIA). Instead, I felt that I could really empathize with them: at the begininng, when Maya watches a torture interrogation, her awkwardness reminded me of myself. When she sits down at her desk, a newbie at the base, and just looks around I knew exactly how that feeling would be. It was nice to see a woman in such a important position.

Back to the question: is Osama bin Laden really dead?

His so-called death and the uncertain answer to this question will no doubt have conspiracy theorists sniffing around for decades. Then again, it’s not just conspiracy enthusiasts who doubt the resounding “yes” that the United States government would give to this question: a good majority of the Arab population says that he’s not in fact dead.

The Arabs who I’ve discussed this with have all said that they don’t believe that Osama is dead. Where is the picture proof? they ask. Why didn’t they show pictures of his bloodied corpse? The answer to that is quite obvious: we didn’t want to make him into more of a martyr for his followers. We didn’t want to show the world more proof of the brutalities of the so-called righteous USA. Then there’s the fact that we snuck into a foreign country in the dead of night and shot a man in, well, cold blood. No trial, nothing. Our moves in that sense were questionable enough; Saddam Hussein’s hanging was broadcast because we had found him in his own country, a country we were invading through war, and we actually put him through a trial, although it was of little use to him. Osama? Although he deserved to die a million deaths, if the United States wanted to go by our law, he should have been forced to sit through a trial before we executed him. I guess they just wanted to make sure he didn’t get away.

But how did they find him? And why, when the helicopters landed next door, didn’t he try to run away? To those who doubt bin Laden’s death, there’s an even more simple answer: if he wasn’t dead, and the United States government lied to the world, if he did show up at some point in time, alive, the American government would lose all credibility and come off as desperate liars. It would probably be the biggest public relations disaster in history.

So, one way or another, we may have gotten Osama, but one thing does remain for certain: there are other mini-Osamas out there. Even though, despite the growing Islamization of the Middle East, jihad and terrorism has bottomed out in popularity, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist completely; Al-Qaeda still exists. And it’s not just al-Qaeda that the world has to look out for: there are countless organizations, such as AQMI (al-Qaeda in the Maghreb), not to mention people who aren’t even part of a radical organization. As the film points out, the man who tried to blow up Times Square was just getting his information from the internet [as to how to build a bomb]. Thus, there is always terror. Osama, besides being the ‘big leader,’ also needed to be captured because of his role in the tragic September 11th attacks. But just because we capture one, doesn’t mean there aren’t a dozen more waiting.

Thus, we need to learn that it’s not just about chasing bad guys. It’s not just about the manhunt. It’s about stopping the idea in the first place. The only way that true peace and harmony could ever be achieved is if we understand each other. Rather than chase the “Bad guys” the United States needs to concentrate on becoming “the Good Guy” in the eyes of the Arab Muslim population and, for better or worse, the rest of the world. We need to lay down our weapons and show that you can’t always fight fire with fire, that fires need to be put out before they even grow.

Needless to say, I feel that Zero Dark Thirty was also an excellent case for international relations and communication. I feel that it is a good example of how we need to learn to treat each other as human beings, especially us, the United States which calls itself a land of liberty and freedom (rather than. say, torture them, which I am quite against). We as Americans, to improve our own international position and to combat terrorism, need to open ourselves up, learn new languages, study another religion, look beyond our borders and consider foreign countries not just as “the enemy” or “someplace to be exploited” or “who cares?” but as legitimate governments with people that we can learn from.

3 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty: A Case for International Relations

  1. Having thought a good deal about this myself, there is no doubt in my mind that bin Laden is in fact dead. I haven’t heard that much to the contrary in the conspiracy theories arena, which is actually kind of surprising. I would think someone on the far-right fringe would be able to at least sow some doubt in the minds of their more fringe supporters. I think the reason we’ve never seen a picture of his bloodied corpse, though, is like you said: it would serve to further martyrize him. As I touched on in my own review of ZDT, it would also have been in bad taste to release any pictures, and I think it was wise for both the movie’s producers and the real-life CIA and SEAL team operatives to refrain from showing bin Laden in death – or in life for that matter.

    I also wanted to mention, I’ve read many different accounts of the manhunt and raid – including three novel-length books – and each one depicts a female CIA operative as the one who gives the SEAL team their mission, and briefs them on the situation and everything they need to know. So there was definitely at least one woman who was closely involved in the manhunt.

    1. Thank you for clarifying that for me regarding the female CIA agent, it’s too bad their work is so secretive/dangerous because they deserve to be recognized by Americans, not just within the CIA 🙂

      And yes–good that the movie didn’t really show Bin Laden either. Bigelow probably would have gotten her head handed to her (no pun) for doing so both by Hollywood and the general public.

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